Lava task force deactivated; more homes are lost

  • This drone photo, taken in the overnight hours of July 2-3, shows fissure No. 8 with rolling lava fountains remaining within the cinder cone and a flowing incandescent channel. The black jigsaw-like features in the lower center of the photo are pieces of cooled lava crust flowing on the surface of the channel. (U.S. Geological Survey/Courtesy Photo)

HILO — The Hawaii National Guard deactivated the Joint Task Force 50 partnership with the Guard and regular military forces that was formed to help with the lava emergency response in Hawaii County, said Guard spokesman Maj. Jeff Hickman on Tuesday in a written statement.

There are more than 150 Guard members on Hawaii Island providing direct support to the county in response to the lower East Rift Zone eruption of Kilauea volcano that started May 3, with helicopter transportation support and manpower at the remaining traffic checkpoints on lower Puna roads.

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The checkpoint that stood for weeks at the intersection of Highways 130 and 132 next to Pahoa High and Intermediate School was disbanded Tuesday, as Highway 130 was reopened to the public for increased access to lower Puna.

Hawaii Police Department Maj. Samuel Jelsma, the Puna district commander, said Tuesday morning that traffic on the road between Pahoa and Kalapana “has picked up just a little, not high volume at this point.”

“We’re trying to show a greater presence in lower Puna now, because we’re anticipating more traffic and a higher volume of people going down to that area,” Jelsma said.

On Highway 130, steel plates still cover cracks in the pavement near the 14-mile marker. The speed limit in the vicinity of the cracks was lowered to 25 mph, and the county warned residents that stopping on the road by the plates could be hazardous.

The county also reopened a portion of Highway 137 on Tuesday from the intersection with Highway 130 and Kamaili Road, also known as Opihikao Drive. The speed limit on Highway 130 from the intersection of Highway 132 to Kamaili was reduced to 35 mph.

Kamaili Road remains closed to all but area residents, and Jelsma said there are police checkpoints on Kamaili at the intersections of Highway 130 on the mauka end and Highway 137 at the makai end.

“There are a few residents beyond Kamaili Road towards MacKenzie (State Recreation Area), but anyone else is being screened at that point,” Jelsma said “We’re keeping access to only local residents on 137 going towards MacKenzie and only local residents on Kamaili Road.”

MacKenzie remains closed, as do the lava areas near Pohoiki and Kapoho.

Janet Snyder, Mayor Harry Kim’s spokeswoman, said Tuesday that lava in the Kapoho area destroyed “six to seven houses” on Monday and was poised to take another three or four on Tuesday.

The official tally of homes destroyed by lava remained at 668. The actual number of homes lost is higher, and the county continues to reconcile flyover photos with county tax map records to update the official count.

A Tuesday email from Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Dana Nelson said that as Monday, 1,898 Hawaii Island residents registered with FEMA, with $2,081,321 in disaster relief grants approved.

The U.S. Small Business Agency said Tuesday it has approved more than $5 million in low-interest federal disaster loans for Hawaii businesses and residents impacted by the volcanic eruption and earthquakes.

According to Tanya N. Garfield, director of SBA’s Disaster Field Operations Center, the agency has so far approved $73,700 for businesses and $4,948,200 for residents to help rebuild and recover from the disaster.

“SBA’s disaster assistance employees are committed to helping businesses and residents rebuild as quickly as possible,” said Garfield.

Businesses and residents who sustained damages are encouraged to register with FEMA prior to the Aug. 13 deadline at www.disasterassistance.gov.

“Don’t miss out on any assistance you may be entitled to by not registering for help. You don’t need to wait for your insurance to settle or obtain a contractor’s estimate,” Garfield added.

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FEMA, SBA and state and county agencies also are available to provide one-on-one assistance to residents at the Disaster Recovery Center at Keaau High School gymnasium. Hours are 8 a.m.-8 p.m. seven days a week, including today, and no appointment is necessary.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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